The long-held dream of wireless network hackers everywhere is to dispense with centralised network infrastructure, and instead rely on a distributed network in which the clients perform the role of distribution and routing of traffic. These so-called mesh networks promise scalability and simplicity on paper, but are in practice never as easy to implement as the theory might suggest. Much venture capital has been burned over the years by startups chasing that particular dream, yet most of our wireless connectivity still follows a hub topology.
An exciting development in our sphere concerning mesh networking came in early 2018, when Particle, the purveyors of wireless-equipped dev boards, launched their third generation of products. These offered mesh networking alongside their other features, but this week they have announced that they’ll no longer be developing that particular side of their offering. The Wi-Fi-equipped Argon and Cellular-equipped Boron will remain on sale, but they will henceforth discontinue the mesh-only Xenon. Existing owners of the now orphaned board will be compensated with store credit.
Their rationale for discontinuing mesh networking is interesting, and reflects on the sentiment in our first paragraph. Mesh networking is hard, and in particular their attempt to make it work with zero configuration was simply not successful. But then they talk about the realisation that maybe mesh networking was not the right solution for the IoT applications the boards were being used in, and perhaps another technology such as LoRa would be more appropriate.
So the mesh experiment from Particle is over, but the company and its connected dev boards are very much still with us. We salute them for being bold enough to try it, and we wonder when we’ll next find a piece of similar mesh networking hardware.